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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N033140/1
Title: Nanoscale metallomics and mineralization: advanced spectro-microscopy determination of the role of iron and calcium in Alzheimer's disease
Principal Investigator: Telling, Professor ND
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Newcastle University University of Texas at San Antonio
Department: Inst for Science and Tech in Medicine
Organisation: Keele University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 03 January 2017 Ends: 31 December 2020 Value (£): 337,549
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Analytical Science Biomaterials
Chemical Biology Physical Organic Chemistry
Protein folding / misfolding
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
R&D Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Sep 2016 EPSRC Physical Sciences - September 2016 Announced
21 Jul 2016 EPSRC Physical Sciences Chemistry - July 2016 Deferred
Summary on Grant Application Form
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that reportedly affects 30 million people worldwide, yet for which there is no cure and only limited opportunities for accurate diagnosis and treatment. The disease is characterised by pathological hallmarks in the brain including dense amyloid protein aggregates (plaques) that are deposited outside cells in the grey matter of the brain, together with significant damage internally in neurons due to 'tangles' of abnormal tau protein. These plaques and tangles are understood to contribute to the death of neurons and the progressive degeneration of the brain. Exactly how this degeneration is mediated by these protein deposits is not yet properly understood. However, oxidative stress damage to neurons, catalysed by highly reactive chemical species known as free radicals, is understood to play a significant role. In addition, substantial evidence now suggests that the dysregulation of iron resulting in a harmful excess of reactive (ferrous) iron in the brain, is a contributing factor in the disease, and may be implicated in the processes leading to oxidative stress.

Interactions between aberrant protein deposits and iron, as well as other metals, are common features of neurodegenerative disorders. In Alzheimer's disease, metal-protein interactions are hypothesized to contribute to the formation of deposits containing reactive (harmful) iron observed post-mortem in diseased brain tissue. In addition, unusual calcium bio-mineralisation has been observed within areas of aberrant protein deposition suggesting that calcium could also play a significant role in the disease. Identifying these mineral products is an important first step in describing this aspect of Alzheimer's disease. However in order to make progress in diagnosing and treating the disease, it is necessary to understand how the metal-protein interactions contribute to the disease process at a level facilitating therapeutic intervention, and the extent to which resulting iron and calcium mineralization in the protein deposits can serve as an early-stage marker of the disease.

We aim to explore the chemical and mineral state of iron and calcium in Alzheimer's disease brain tissue using sensitive and specific analytical methods, as well performing experiments to investigate how metal-protein interactions can lead to the initiation and evolution (both chemical and structural) of the protein deposits. Further, we will assess how the metal-protein aggregates formed in human brain tissue, as well as those created artificially, respond to treatments with the metal chelating agents that are currently being developed as potential drug therapies for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative conditions.

To ensure the success of this project we have assembled a unique interdisciplinary research team, with a strong international track record, to build upon our successful preliminary work in this area, applying a combination of advanced synchrotron x-ray microscopy and mass spectrometry techniques to probe nanoscale variations in the bio-inorganic chemistry occurring in Alzheimer's tissue. An important aspect of the project is that in all cases we will support our evaluation using these specialist techniques, with conventional imaging and histology. From this we will build a comprehensive description of this fundamental process in Alzheimer's disease, addressing key outstanding questions about the metal-protein interactions and how they may be modified. The parallels between aberrant protein deposition and altered handling of iron and other metals in related disorders, will allow the approach developed in this project to be readily translated, enabling equivalent impact for other forms of neurodegenerative disease. With clinical advances in chelation therapy and improved scope to track brain iron status non-invasively by clinical MRI, this project is not just timely but also urgent.

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Organisation Website: http://www.keele.ac.uk